In 1963, the Rev. Martin Luther King delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech of racial reconciliation for America. As the son of Lutheran missionaries in India who were called to evangelize Muslims, I recently came across an essay written by my Dad, which advocated an approach of conciliation, rather than confrontation, towards our Muslim brethren. Finding that essay kindled a dream of my own about rebuilding a common circle of conversation among Christians, Jews and Muslims — the three world religions who all worship the God of Abraham.
Sadly, our history has been one of confrontation and conflict, of us against them in a broken circle. Burned in our Western psyches are the struggles over the Holy Land dating back to the Crusades of the 11th century, the continual state of war there today; and, of course, 9/11, ISIS and the War on Terror — all seen as an onslaught by radical Muslims against Judeo-Christian values.
On the Muslim side, there is the humiliating legacy of Western colonial domination. Then there’s the added insult of the betrayal of the Arab Revolt of World War I in support of the Western allies only to be handed out another dose of colonialism in the Interwar period that culminated in Western support for the creation of Israel in Palestine in 1948. This history has led, at least radical Muslims, to see the Judeo-Christian West as their mortal enemies.
These Muslims similarly divide the world into an us-against-them divide. In this framework, Muslim lands form a world of peace — the Dar al-Islam — while we in the West live in the world of war, chaos, and sin — the Dar al-Harb. Muslims have felt called to expand their zone of peace, even as Christians have responded to the Great Commission of Jesus to spread the Gospel throughout the world. This confrontation has launched one of history’s longest trains of killing.
It was not always so.
At their beginnings, all three faiths worshipped the God of Abraham as their one true God. For Judaism, through Abraham’s son Isaac, God anointed the Jews as God’s Chosen People. For Muslims, the anointing as the Chosen came from Ishmael, Abraham’s eldest son. There is a further dispute over which son was born to which mother. Back then, however, each side accepted that God made the other “a great nation.” No matter this family quarrel, Christianity sees Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of God’s blessing of Abraham.
On the question of Jesus, both Jews and Muslims agree: His claim to divinity is blasphemy to the Jews and Shirk to Muslims. To Jews, blasphemy is punishable by death; and, to Muslims, Shirk, is the unpardonable sin of believing in divine associates to God. Still, since the Jewish scripture, the Old Testament, provides the historical basis and theological grounding for the Messiahship of Jesus, Judaism has been welcomed into the Christian tent.
To keep the Muslims outside this tent, as they have been, is something of a miscarriage in that Islam reserves a very special place for Jesus. In the Muslim scripture, The Qur’an, Jesus is the son of Mary, who remained a virgin, because God created Jesus uniquely, just as he did Adam at the beginning of creation. The Qur’an also accepts the miracles of Jesus. This is significant because the Prophet Mohammed, who was the founding prophet of Islam, was a “natural” mortal and did not perform miracles.
Going further, in Muslim tradition (the Hadith) Jesus was the one who welcomed Mohammed to Paradise during Mohammed’s famous dream of his Night Journey to Heaven from Jerusalem. Even more, at the end of time, it is Jesus who will return to Earth and defeat the Antichrist in the ultimate battle of history. In this tradition, Jesus then will die and be buried next to Mohammed. It strikes me that if Muslims were welcomed into our tent, we would have much to talk about.
Indeed, Mohammed’s original formulation was that the Dar al-Islam included all believers in “the religions of the Book” — Jews with their Torah, Christians with their Evangel (Gospel) and Muslims with their Qur’an. His goal was to have these three faiths of Abraham absorb the rest of the world into a full global circle.
It is worth noting that within our Judeo-Christian tent are people wearing “cloaks of many colors.” Unitarians believe in God, but deny the divinity of Christ. Like Muslims, Mormons have their own scripture that supersedes the Bible. Thomas Jefferson rejected the miracles of Jesus. The liberal theologians of the Jesus Seminar also deny the divinity of Jesus. There is more than enough room for Muslims in our tent.
So, my dream is that someday soon Jews, Christians and Muslims will follow my Dad’s path of conciliation into the tent of peace within the full circle of Abraham, rather than down the bloody alleys of war. After all, we’re family.